When Child Custody and Homeschooling Collide – What Co-Parents Should Consider

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, all New York and New Jersey public and private schools will remain closed for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year. Both Governor Cuomo and Governor Murphy have announced these institutions will continue online and remote instruction through the rest of the school year.

This leaves many parents who share custody of their children wondering how this affects their child custody agreements. As most parenting plans are designed around the school year, its designated holidays and vacations, what happens when the school year is interrupted or cancelled? Few families have contingency plans in place for these types of crises, and parents certainly didn’t expect to be called upon to be full-time teachers during this time.

What does this mean for your child? What does this mean for you as a parent?

The truth is that everyone is unsure. This is a time of uncertainty. This pandemic is uncharted waters for everyone. However, one thing remains the same – the best interests of your child should always be your number one priority. If a child custody matter goes to court, the Judge will look at the “best interest of the child.”

To help co-parents adjust to sharing custody during these extraordinary circumstances, Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), and Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC), released some guidelines for families, including:

  • Be healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children.
  • Be mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic, but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time.
  • Be compliant with court orders and custody agreements. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.
  • Be creative. Some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change.

Generally, parents should follow the same custody agreement as if the child were still in school, as before the COVID-19 schedule interruption. However, we understand that this is not an ideal time, and some parents simply have more resources to help their child with homeschooling. This may be because one parent is an essential worker and is not home during the day, the parent’s schedule does not allow time for lessons, or one of the parents is otherwise affected by the pandemic.

Ideally, and with some flexibility and creativity, co-parents can settle matters of shared visitation and custody amicably without going to court and requesting a modification of custody order. At the moment, New York courts are largely only hearing emergency motions, so it is important to consult with experienced attorneys if you and your co-parent are involved in any dispute around shared custody during this time.

The matrimonial and family law attorneys at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP continue to serve our clients in New York City, Westchester, and Bergen County, New Jersey. Please do not hesitate to contact us regarding your rights as a parent during these uncertain times. Schedule your consultation today by calling (212) 466-6015 or reaching out to us through our contact form.

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